Replacement Housing or Replacing People

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The replacement housing that is now being built in the West Haven community is not without a wide range of concerns by some of the people who are supposed to acquire these new units. These people I refer to are the displaced families of Henry Horner Homes. There have been a number of families displaced due to the demolition of three buildings that once stood on the strip of land from Damen Avenue and Lake Street to Hoyne Avenue and Lake Street. Many of these families received Section 8 certificates while others received housing vouchers allowing them to move back on site once the new units had been built. Some of the new units have been built and occupied by Horner residents on Hoyne. For those occupants, there have been complaints about their new units.

However, there are a number of residents who are scheduled to move into some of the new units in the area who say that they are having problems moving in. One problem consists of residents not being allowed to move in because their families are larger than expected and they have been told that they have to take smaller units or wait until larger units are constructed, which may never happen. Another problem residents are having is with the process of which families get to move into the units first.

The families that move into the units are determined by a lottery. This lottery is only necessary when there are not enough units available for families who desire the same size apartment: for example, there are 30 families that desire a 3-bedroom apartment but there are only 16 units available. This is when the lottery comes into effect. The families are then selected by the Horner Resident Committee (HRC) according to the building next in line to receive units mandated by the consent decree.

One problem with choosing families by lottery is that many residents feel that the buildings may become too empty, leaving a small percentage of families in a building that once was full of families. Some view this as very unsafe. Some residents say that if you leave a building with two or more families left in it, then eventually those families would be overlooked. Security would no longer be a big concern because you wouldn’t have a number of people to look after. Repairs would no longer get done because housing would no longer allow their maintenance staff to perform their normal duties, etc.

Another major problem that now looms over Horner residents is that some units are now being withheld from transfer to Horner residents by Earnest Gates, the president of the Near West Development Corporation. Near West Development is a partner with MCL Development and both firms are now building some of the units for Horner residents as well as working-class families that desire to move into the new units, thus creating a mixed community called West Haven with people of different economic backgrounds and lifestyles.

Some residents of Horner feel that Gates is not trying to create a mixed community but rather trying to replace residents that now reside in the area with more affluent people whose presence in the community may somehow transform it into something that he alone wants. The Horner residents who are suspicious of Gates feel that he does not want a community of people who rent but just people who own homes.

Would this be a fair assumption or Gates’ goals? Only he can answer that question. I have not spoken with Gates on this matter but certainly I am not opposed to getting his response for a follow-up to this story. There seems to be a division within the community of people who should consider themselves neighbors. Instead, they view themselves as homeowners and Horner residents. This so-called haven is turning out to be everything but a haven. It’s turning out to be a community of segregation and separatism. If we want this community to thrive and become productive once again, we need to find ways where we can work together on issuers that do not affect one-half of the community because they reside in public housing. We need to work together so we can improve upon current conditions to better our community as true neighbors.

If we can accomplish that one task, then the community that has been named West Haven will indeed show the world that it is just that, a haven were people are proud to call it their home.

A version of this story by the same author appeared in a recent edition of Our Voices, a newsletter for and by the residents of the West Haven community.

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